In Part 1 we established that originally to be “righteous” was to do one’s duty, to do the right thing. For God and for the Jew in the Old Testament, this meant to keep covenant obligations. In Part 2 we discussed what the Gospels mean by “righteous.” People who keep God’s laws from the heart and do good to their fellow man will be rewarded “at the resurrection of the righteous” (Lk 14:14; Mt 25:37).
Now we shall see what some of the rest of the New Testament means by “righteous.” As it turns out, our best efforts to keep the law of Moses and to do good are not enough to commend us to God as “righteous.” Paul spoke on his first missionary journey about the things that men “could not be justified from by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39). Later he made it even more emphatic: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law” (Rom 3:20).
So we must be “righteous” in a way that goes beyond the level of good people in the Old Testament and beyond the ritual religiosity of the Pharisees. We must be able to withstand the scrutiny of the One who “is righteous in all his ways” (Ps 145:17). How can a perfect God look at a less-than-perfect human and pronounce him “righteous”? (For if God were to call an unrighteous man “righteous,” this would put God Himself in the wrong.)
But God had a plan, all along, by which He could save us. He could be both “righteous” and “the One who makes righteous” at the same time (Rom 3:26). Beginning with Abraham—long before the Law was given—God declared that faith would be reckoned (credited, computed, counted, calculated) as righteousness (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:3).
This is the right-standing from God that comes through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 3:22). He is God’s chosen One, and “The one who trusts in him will never be put to shame” (Rom 9:33).